What was it about someone who was the father of all of mankind’s bad impulses and former greyhound tracks? Instead of returning to Par Impar, I tracked Iapetus to Tampa Poker Room. It was a former greyhound track, since they’d finally shut down all of them in the state of Florida. He should have left, gone back to Tartarus, or at least quit trying to be a thorn in my side. If Hephestus wasn’t busy, I would have had him make me a set of cuffs that would have done just that–send Iapetus back to Tartarus. But when I’d texted, he’d apologized and said he was in the middle of something. I understood. He had a lot of technical irons in the futuristic fire these days.
I walked into the poker room. The steady ding-ding of slot machines, where little old ladies grabbed the lever and pulled it like a chin hair, came from one side. Suited men and bedazzled ladies sat around tables with cards in their hands, piles of chips, big and small, in front of them. Had I not been on Iapetus’ trail, I might have wandered around and sprinkled good luck on the pensioners and those with high hopes alike. Sadly, I had business to do.
I saw him at one of the poker tables, sitting with his back to me. He’d traded the ugly plaid jacket for a navy blazer and dockers, his black shoes shined to a gleaming hue. The cards in his hand were passable, not a winning hand, but one that would keep him in the game a few more rounds. Three other men, all middling, mediocre, middle-aged management types, played with him. The dealer held the chips, and noticed Iapetus’ pile wasn’t the largest.
“I’ll raise you.” Iapetus pushed chips across the table, but with his back blocking my view, I couldn’t see how much.
The man to his right nodded. “I’m in.” He pushed more chips into the growing pile.
A charge of energy, barely perceptible hit the man to the right of him and he frowned, then blinked as if seeing his cards for the first time. “I’m out, damnit.” He put down his hand and crossed his arms over his chest.
The dealer gave cards to the remaining players.
The first man shook his head. “Out, sorry.”
The game remained just between Iapetus and the guy with salt and pepper hair to his right. The other stood and left the table. I moved just out of Iapetus’ peripheral vision to take the seat when the game ended. Though I tried not to play in other casinos–it never seemed fair with my powers–for this, I’d make an exception.
“I’m in.” Iapetus pushed the last of his chips into the pile.
This would end soon. The man to his right did likewise. “Call.”
Both men flipped over their hands. Iapetus, as I’d suspected by the use of his powers, had the winning hand. Well, I’d see about that. Putting on my best smile, I slid into the seat next to them. “Starting a new round, gentlemen?” I glanced at both men.
“Sure,” said Iapetus’ opponent. “Always a pleasure to game with a pretty lady. You?” He glanced obviously at Iapetus’ pile of chips, most likely hoping to win a few of them back.
“Well, I, uh–”
“Surely you wouldn’t leave. Not when the cards are getting good.” I laid a well-manicured hand on his coat, fire-engine red nails curling against his forearm. “You wouldn’t leave me, now would you? Abandon a lady?” Though I lacked the charms of some of the other Goddesses, I wasn’t without my own fair share, and I did enjoy turning them on to make men squirm. Especially when those men should have been rotting in Tartarus rather than sitting at a Florida poker table.
“Well, I guess I can’t refuse a lady.” The emphasis he put on the term probably sounded gentlemanly to a human ear, but I knew what he meant. That I was no lady. And indeed, I wasn’t. I was a goddess, and I was sick and tired of this game of cat and mouse.
I passed my casino card to the dealer. “Why don’t I get $5000 in chips? That should give me a good start.”
The human player’s eyes widened. He swallowed hard, suddenly realizing that he might be in over his depth. Oh, he was. So deep that he might as well be swimming in the Mariana Trench, and yet, I admired him for not getting up and leaving. I might even let him win a hand. Maybe.
The exchange was made and I had the chips in front of me.
“Opening bet is $250,” the dealer said.
I nodded and put the appropriate chip in the center of the table. The others did likewise and the dealer handed us our cards. My hands tingled with a hint of deity energy.
My hand proved playable, quite possibly winnable. When the dealer indicated Iapetus was to go as the winner of the previous hand, he made a modest wager, merely fifty dollars, and accepted a card. The human did likewise, and it came to me. I followed suit. We went silently around the table, receiving and discarding cards, upping the wager. I sensed when Iapetus thought he’d had the winning hand.
I smiled and nodded as I accepted my card. Perfect. Exactly what I needed.
Iapetus made a larger wager and the human folded, leaving just the two of us around the table. I upped the wager once more, $250 this time.
“Four of a kind.” Iapetus laid his cards down, and indeed, I saw he had four 9s.
I smiled innocently. “Royal Flush.” I laid my cards down.
“The lady wins!” The dealer pushed the pile of chips over to me.
“No! You had to have cheated. You’re the goddess of good fortune, after all.”
I laughed because we were in the presence of mortals, plus the look on his face was priceless.
“Sir, calm down. I was watching the entire time,” the dealer said, reaching across the table.
“You don’t know what she can do.” Iapetus turned to me. “This is the last time.”
“Oh, is it?” I reached for him and grabbed his wrist. I turned to the dealer. “My apologies. I couldn’t resist. Keep the chips. This man has violated his parole and needs to return now.” I tightened my grip on his wrist. “Let’s go.”
The dealer stared wide-eyed as I led Iapetus out of the poker room. Luckily, few other patrons paid attention to us, focusing instead on their suddenly winning games. I kept the players occupied until I had taken Iapetus to a dark corner of the parking lot.
“What are you going to do to me now? Send me back to Tartaurus?” He sneered down his formerly-broken and bulbous nose at me. “Don’t you need a magical portal or something?”
“Nope.” In truth, I didn’t know. I hoped that if I focused my goddess powers on him that he’d just pop back to Tartarus, though I honestly had no clue. I also couldn’t exactly call up someone and ask right now. Maybe I should have thought about that before I got myself into this situation.
I focused my energy, my will, the kind of luck dust that I often sprinkled around people or infused into objects on Iapetus. I saw him back in Tartarus, locked behind bars once more. The clang of the cell door, the whoosh of his passing as he was sucked back into place. He remained in front of me and I thought perhaps I did need something.
Send him back, I thought. Go back to Tartarus. Get out of here and go back to where you should be, where you’d been put. I forced the thoughts at him as if they were daggers poking straight into his heart.
His form shimmered. He wavered, as if he were a hologram trying to show himself.
Was it working? I hoped so! Please, please, please go back. Please. My thoughts grew more frantic, more pointed, and I swore I glowed with my god energy. Luck dust swirled around me, around us, as if we were props on the set of the original Star Trek back in the 1960s.
Iapetus blinked out of sight.
I gasped. Reached for him in case this was some sort of Titan trick of invisibility or something. It’d been so long I wondered if we really knew what their powers were. I waved my hand through the empty space and the glittery glow around me faded. Whatever had happened must have sent him–somewhere.
I sincerely hoped it was Tartarus. And I so very much wanted to go back to Par Impar.
# # #
As soon as the plane’s wheels touched down in Nassau, I finally felt that I was well and truly home. Oh, our little homestead outside of Olympus, the place I’d share with Aggie, was lovely. Perfect in all the right ways that a goddess ought to find inviting, and I supposed I should have settled down there.
I couldn’t. I knew it. Talking with Pluoto, my sister, knowing she had a place in Brussels, made me only cherish Par Impar even more. This was my home, my shelter, the place where I worked my skills and brought mortals joy the way in which I could.
I took a private car from the airport and stepped onto Par Impar’s manicured grounds once more. The late plane put me here well after most of the main staff would have left for the day. I doubted even Minerva worked this late. I hurried to my villa, pausing to admire my koi beneath the setting moon. Then, I unlocked the door and went inside, left my luggage by the door, reengaged the lock, then went to my bedroom. I washed my face and changed into my favorite nightgown. Tomorrow, I’d talk to Minerva about her vacation and that would no doubt bring its own set of difficulties.
I didn’t care. Releasing a deep sigh of contentment, of finally being in my own bed after an overlong vacation, I simply cherished being home. And somewhere, I knew Aggie was settling down, preparing once more to bless the crops. Each of us, bringing luck into the new year in our own ways.